Starting Five: Most important week of the summer begins
Maybe the most important week of the summer is here as college coaches will hit the road from coast to coast to watch players during a live period. In this week's Starting Five, Eric Bossi previews what he'll be looking for on the road. Also, Michigan picked up an important commit, it's too early to worry about R.J. Barrett and more.
2021 Rankings: Rivals150
1. WHAT I'LL BE LOOKING FOR THIS WEEK
College coaches can hit the road to watch events from Thursday-Sunday of this week and they'll be stretched from coast to coast. I'll be in Augusta for Nike's Peach Jam before swinging through Atlanta for the HoopSeen Best of the South as well as the Under Armour Finals. Here's a quick look at some of the things I'll be most interested to see.
I'm curious to see how the guys who just finished winning gold for USA Basketball in the FIBA U19 World Cup look, particularly point guards Cade Cunningham and Jalen Suggs. I wouldn't give Cunningham (who will play for one of the Peach Jam favorites, the Texas Titans) or Suggs (who will compete with Team Sizzle in the UA Finals) any grief if they are sluggish. But, I'd also bet they show up ready to play. Both are highly competitive and even though they've been going non-stop for a bit, I think they'll both have big chips on their shoulder as Cunningham drives for the top spot in the class and Suggs looks to prove that he's been a bit underrated by us at No. 16 nationally.
Who is John Calipari going to lock in on? It seems like we've normally got a better of idea of who Calipari and Kentucky are really locked in on by this point in the summer. This year, it's a little unclear. Sure the Wildcats are in with lots of big names like five-stars Jalen Green, Sharife Cooper, B.J. Boston and N'Faly Dante among those who will be in Augusta for the Peach Jam. Who Cal locks in on this week -- or who he perhaps goes to other venues to see like five-stars Makur Maker and Daishen Nix -- should reveal a lot about what direction the Wildcats' 2020 class could be headed.
Finally, I'll be looking for the usual. Who is still underrated? Who is overrated and who can push ahead of the pack. We know that we'll soon have some new names causing a major buzz and finding those guys is usually the best part of the summer.
2. MICHIGAN GETS BIG SCORE IN FRANZ WAGNER
The younger brother of former Michigan star Moritz Wagner, the thought had been that he might lean towards remaining overseas to play in Berlin. Especially when John Beilein left right in the middle of the recruiting process. But, Howard was able to get the job done and secured the skilled wing.
Wagner is a pure wing player who can really shoot the ball from deep. He's a solid athlete, sees the game at a high level and looks to be an outstanding player to pair alongside four-star wing Cole Bajema in Michigan's 2019 class.
Obviously, I've not seen near as much of Wagner as I have the usual inbound prospect, but I've seen enough to know he is good. Can he replace Ignas Brazdeikis' production right out of the box? Maybe not. That's a lot too expect. But, once he gets acclimated I don't anticipate the dropoff being all that much and he's a guy that should have the folks in Ann Arbor feeling pretty good.
3. COACHES MAY HAVE TO WAIT TO SEE TCHIKOU
One of the players I was most anxious to get coaches' feedback on is class of 2021 power forward Alex Tchikou. After moving from France and spending his sophomore year at Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep, Tchikou is all set to play his junior year at Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster and he's going to turn heads.
At 6-foot-11 he can run for days, puts the ball on the floor some and shows promise as a shooter. He's got a big personality and needs strength, but his raw tools and size would have whipped college coaches into a frenzy after they got a brief glimpse of him playing for the Uneek Ballers on the Adidas Gauntlet Circuit.
I checked with Tchikou over the weekend to see where he would be and he told me that he most likely won't be playing in any live events.
Even though coaches may miss out on him this time around, Tchikou has racked up a pretty impressive offer list with Baylor, Fresno State, George Washington, Mississippi State, Nevada, Oklahoma State, Oregon, TCU, UNLV, USC and Wyoming having already offered.
4. DON'T PUSH THE PANIC BUTTON ON BARRETT YET
The NBA's Summer League has become must-watch material for the hoops obsessed. It fills a gap between the NBA Finals and training camp and it gives us a great look at top end Draft picks and guys who have been toiling overseas. Sometimes we get some great reads, sometimes it doesn't mean anything. But, one thing we always do is overreact. It's human nature.
Last year, there was some early overreaction to poor shooting from Trae Young. All he did was go on to have a rookie of the year level first season even if he finished runner up to Luka Doncic.
This year, R.J. Barrett is the recipient of the early overreaction meltdown. He's a top five pick, he's a former No. 1 player, he went to Duke and he landed with the Knicks so he's a highly visible dude who people are going to talk about. Well, his start has certainly been less than ideal.
Barrett has made just 7 of 33 shots through a pair of summer league games and there really haven't been many bright flashes. But, he's just recently turned 19 years old has a lot of pressure on him and is having to find his way in a very visible setting.
It's too early to have any concern over his chances to be an impactful rookie. Barrett has always competed, he's a hard worker and he seems to have the mental makeup to handle some down periods in his game. We'll see soon enough if he's the guy we've thought he was for a long time or if he's got some work to do.
For now, I'd still lean towards his body of work being a much better indicator of future success than his first few summer league games, but a big performance in his next outing wouldn't hurt.
5. BALLO LOOKS LIKE THE REAL DEAL
Late in the process, we debated whether or not to leave Oumar Ballo has a five-star or drop him down to a four-star. The Gonzaga signee was a little up and down the last year, but given his youth and limited exposure to big time basketball, we decided to leave him as a five-star and see what Mark Few and his staff could do with him.
After watching him play for Mali in the FIBA U19 World Cup, I'm glad we left him as a five-star prospect.
Every bit of 6-foot-10, Ballo won't even turn 17 for a few more days so he's the same age as most 2020 and many top 2021 prospects. There's even been rumblings he could redshirt his first year because of that youth, but man he looks ready to play now.
He commands space around the rim, has soft hands, has really started to lean up and replace baby fat with muscle and he's learning to play hard at all times. Bottom line, Gonzaga fans should be really excited about bringing in Ballo along with dudes like Drew Timme and Pavel Zakharov. That's three terrific young post players.